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Pheasant hunters flocking in February? National Pheasant Fest bringing in thousands to SD

(Photo courtesy of Pheasants Forever)1 / 3
(Photo courtesy of Pheasants Forever)2 / 3
(Photo courtesy of Pheasants Forever)3 / 3

Thousands of orange- and flannel-clad folks are arriving to South Dakota this week, but fall pheasant opener certainly isn't here.

National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic begins Friday and runs through Sunday at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls. Among the notable speakers expected are South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Secretary Kelly Hepler.

Officials are estimating upwards of 27,000 attendees from all over the United States during the three-day event, which is being held in South Dakota for the first time. Last year's event brought 31,000 people to Minneapolis.

"There's a big hunting tradition in the state of South Dakota, and there's nothing that compares to this as far as upland hunting goes," said Jared Wiklund, public relations manager for Pheasants Forever, the nonprofit group that organizes the classic.

This weekend's event is Pheasants Forever's largest single fundraiser each year, according to Wiklund. He said it typically raises between $300,000 to $750,000 in annual, unrestricted revenue for the organization to use for staffing, land acquisitions, enhancement projects and other areas.

"I think show indicates to the public that we are all-in for South Dakota," Wiklund said. "South Dakota is one of our major priorities right now. As far as economic impact the show itself brings in $4 million to $5 million for the host city and surrounding region."

The booth space for the open-to-the-public event is sold out, according to officials. Vendors in attendance include representatives from "every walk of the upland lifestyle: dogs, shotguns, clothes, booths, outfitters, wildlife art, game cooking, habitat management and conservation."

Tickets to the classic can be purchased online for $5 and admission at the door is $10. It runs from noon to 8 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Wiklund said Saturday night's banquet with 1,380 seats has sold out, a first time in the classic's history. A welcome from Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever President and CEO Howard Vincent starts at 7 p.m., and the keynote address is at 7:40 p.m. with "The MeatEater" Steven Rinella, an avid outdoorsman, writer TV host and public lands advocate. There will also be games, raffles and a live auction Saturday night.

Saturday also includes a shed antler training session at 10 a.m. on the Bird Dog Stage. The seminar is with Tom Dokken, inventor of the DeadFowl Trainer, who has more than 40 years of dog training experience.

To start the classic, from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday, there will be a presentation to show off the Aberdeen Pheasant Coalition model, a first-of-its-kind group in South Dakota that has since been replicated in Mitchell.

The coalition is made up of local businesses and organizations, which raises funds to be used to provide a sign-up incentive for landowners enrolling in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and also in the state Walk-In Area program to provide public hunting and boost local business. Daugaard, Noem, Hepler will all be speaking at the presentation, which is at the Ramada adjacent to the Denny Sanford Premier Center.

Friday will also include a bird dog parade that will feature more than 45 sporting dog breeds and 100 dogs parading through the convention center. The parade begins at 11 a.m.

"Next to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, this is one of the largest dog shows in the nation," Wiklund said.

The first evening of the classic will feature "Pheasantennial Friday" a beer dabbler and social for the community to raise funds for habitat improvements in South Dakota. There will be craft microbrews available for guests along with all-you-can-eat finger foods. Cost for the event is $60.

"There's going to be a little bit of something for everybody," Wiklund said.